Morneau holds inaugural Casino Night

Morneau holds inaugural Casino Night

MINNEAPOLIS -- It doesn't happen often -- or perhaps ever -- that Joe Mauer finds himself getting booed by Twins fans. But after Mauer's five-card straight beat out three other poker players at Justin Morneau's Casino Night on Thursday, Minnesota's All-Star catcher received a bit of heckling from the crowd surrounding his table.

"I'm getting booed over here," Mauer said.

"He gets everything," offered a player at Mauer's table.

A few tables down, Mauer's teammate, Michael Cuddyer, found his chip stack dwindling after losing a hand of Texas Hold'em.

"I figured I'd take a chance with my king," said Cuddyer, whose king was beat out by an ace across the table. "I'm just giving my money away."

Mauer, Cuddyer and a handful of other Twins were all on hand Thursday night at the International Market Square in Minneapolis to take part in Morneau's inaugural event, put on in conjunction with the Arthritis Foundation. The charity event was created to raise money and awareness for juvenile arthritis, a cause near and dear to Morneau and his wife, Krista.

The couple's 5-year-old niece, Madelyn, was first diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 2. At the time, Madelyn had just a 30 percent range of motion in her right hand, but now she has full range thanks to weekly shots and other treatments. She now has arthritis in her eyes, however, which Krista said comes and goes.

Seeing what Madelyn has gone through, the Morneaus had wanted to do something to help raise awareness for the disease, which affects nearly 300,000 children under the age of 17.

"It's unfortunate that they have to deal with that," Morneau said. "They have to battle with it. Just raise a little bit of awareness for it and get some funding for research and to help families out there, specifically in the Minnesota area, that have to deal with it."

Morneau and teammate Mike Redmond conceived the idea of a casino night a year ago when they first discussed having a Texas Hold'em night. That idea was widened to include more games in order to accommodate players of all abilities.

"We figured a casino night with a little bit of everything would give everyone a chance to play," Morneau said. "Hopefully people can have fun doing that."

"It's something he loves to do," Krista Morneau said of her husband. "It's a little bit more on a personal level, just laid back instead of a formal dinner or having an event like that."

Throughout the night, players rotated from table to table, allowing fans the chance to play against -- and in some cases, even beat -- their favorite Twins at various card games.

"It's a little overwhelming," said David Schauer, a Twins fan from Arlington, Minn. "I'm just somewhat of a small-town country boy."

While Mauer found success at the poker table, he didn't quite have the same luck playing blackjack.

"I'm not much of a card player," admitted Mauer.

The event's host ran into some trouble at the blackjack tables as well, as the dealer kept Morneau on edge when he showed 14 before dealing another card.

"Jack! Jack!" Morneau yelled. The card came up a 4, handing Morneau a loss. "Boo!" the star first baseman yelled.

Cuddyer, who often can be found entertaining teammates with card and magic tricks, said he didn't dare run the risk of employing his hidden talent at the poker table.

"I'd get kicked out," Cuddyer said.

As fans and players competed head-to-head for play money, over 100 silent auction items could be found nearby, with money from the auction and the $100 admission fee going to support therapeutic and educational programs for those affected by juvenile arthritis.

The items auctioned off Thursday night ranged from dozens of autographed baseballs to hotel packages to hockey sticks -- no surprise, seeing as the Canadian-born Morneau is an avid hockey fan.

"[Wayne] Gretzky sent something," Morneau said. "There's a lot of hockey stuff, and we have a lot of hockey players also coming out, too. A little bit of both worlds, so it's not just baseball."

But there was one auction item Morneau had his sights set on: an autographed AC/DC guitar, part of the live auction that took place after the poker games had concluded.

"He's an AC/DC fanatic," Krista Morneau said.

"Be careful getting into a bidding war for that AC/DC guitar," Morneau warned the crowd before the event started. "I've got my eyes on that."

Tyler Mason is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.